When President Bill Clinton ordered a two-year moratorium on mining claims on 19,000 acres of federally owned land surrounding Yellowstone National Park, environmentalists cheered. The order did not prevent Crown Butte Mine Inc. of Canada from pursuing its plans to dig for gold and other metals on its already leased claim just northeast of the park. But it stopped the company from expanding its operation and put it on notice that the controversial project was now on the president's radar screen.


"The president has put a noose around the mine site," crowed Mike Clark, head of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, following the president's announcement Aug. 25.


Apparently, the noose was loose. Quick-acting Crown Butte officials filed 38 additional claims on national forest lands adjacent to its mine site on Aug. 29 and Aug. 31, narrowly beating the Sept. 1 publishing date of the president's moratorium in the Federal Register.


Environmentalists, who fear the mine will release pollutants into the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, which flows into the park, are outraged. "Crown Butte is thumbing its nose at the president and the American public," Clark said.


Crown Butte officials told the Denver Post the claims were filed to provide an alternative mill site and had been in the works for a long time. Said president Joe Baylis, "Have we done something wrong? I certainly don't think so."


Meanwhile, an international delegation visiting the park in early September may apply more pressure on the company (HCN, 6/13/94). Park experts from the World Heritage Committee, part of the United Nations, will inspect the mine area to evaluate whether it endangers the park, already declared a World Heritage Site.


* Paul Larmer